We first came across Bagan in the film Samsara by Ron Fricke (of Baraka fame). The camera slowly pans across the jungle landscape revealing temple after temple as far as the eye can see. It looked magical, the kind of place that tourists should be flocking to, and we better hurry up and go before everyone else also cottons on to the idea. (See what we mean here).
Bagan was built between the 11-13th centuries, in what can only be described as an orgy of temple building. There are over 2000 temples still there today, and according to one source, during the height of construction, they were completing two temples a week every week for a couple of decades. It makes you wonder what this civilization could have achieved if they had put all that effort into useful infrastructure.
While each individual temple is interesting, one of our main goals was to get a view of all the temples similar to what we saw in Samsara. We’re travelling in low season, which means the hot air balloons aren’t running. However a regime crony has controversially built a lookout tower which promises a similar view. We dedicate a lot of time and missed turns to getting to the lookout tower, which is one of the creepiest and emptiest buildings we’ve ever seen, kind of like the Fortress of Sauron. However, the view was amazing.
Zooming around on our electric bikes and exploring temples with no other tourists makes us feel like we’re Indiana Jones (stumbling across some artefacts, most likely broken jugs, helps complete this feeling. Although unlike Indiana jones we leave the artefacts where we found them). In the back streets around the temples we stumble across goats being herded and a whole lot of open spaces.
The downside of low season is the heat, it hovers in the mid-40s all day. The heat is oppressive, but we manage to escape the worst part in the middle of the day by hiding in our hotel pool and guzzling more water than seems possible.